The pre-season outlook

The summer transfer window will soon tell whether Arsenal is a serious contender for the Premier League title. The Gunners had a strong finish last season with eight victories and two draws to clinch the last Champions League spot. But the 16-point gap with Manchester United and the humiliating exits in the domestic cup competitions showed the glaring holes in our squad.

Basically, we need a world-class centerback, a physical holding midfielder and a clinical striker. So far, Arsenal has signed only one player: Sanogo. The 20-year-old forward has tremendous potential but he’s not ready for the first team yet and won’t score 20 goals for his first season in England. Wenger is known for waiting until the last minute to get the cheapest deal. But procrastinating has a cost: It will take more time for the team to gel.

On the bright side, the Gunners have managed to trim payroll. The club let Mannone and Denilson try their luck somewhere else, loaned out Djourou and Coquelin, and did not renew the contracts of Arshavin and Squillaci. Now Arsenal must find a way to offload Chamakh, Park, Bendtner and Gervinho.

While Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski were good signings last summer, Arsenal’s scouts must also take the blame for failing to see the flaws in Chamakh, Park and Gervinho. Technically, those three players were quite decent but they never had the mental toughness to fight for a starting spot. Let’s hope the club will take attitude into account before considering a transfer.

Up front, one key factor Arsenal must deal with is the market trend. Prices have been driven up by Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco, who overpaid to respectively land Cavani and Falcao. You can bet that selling clubs will be looking to cash in. Arsenal has been recently linked with Higuain, Suarez and Rooney. Higuain was the best option of those three strikers, but the Argentina forward decided to join Napoli.

Suarez would cost more than 40 million pounds and could be a distraction in the dressing room because of his antics. Signing Suarez would not make sense knowing he will also miss a few more games for biting Ivanovic last season. Rooney’s market value is around 50 million pounds. That’s crazy money for a player who’s unfit and clearly past his prime.

History tells us that it’s very likely that Wenger will sign a forward flying under the radar (for instance, Adebayor from Monaco in 2006 and Eduardo from Dinamo Zagreb in 2007). Ajax captain De Jong would be a fantastic recruit. He mostly plays as an attacking midfielder or as a second striker. But I believe he could be a clinical centerforward as well because of his flawless technique and the way he moves inside the box. De Jong’s market value is around 10 million euros. But if Arsenal were to overpay, 16 million euros would still be good value for that kind of player.

On the wings, assuming Gervinho leaves, we still have Podolski and Cazorla on the left flank, and Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right flank. There would still be some room for youngsters such as Miyaichi, Eisfeld and Gnabry to play a few games. The Gunners don’t need a winger, so I’m curious to know how much truth there is in reports sending Brazil international Bernard to Arsenal.

In the playmaking role, we have three different profiles with Cazorla, Rosicky and Wilshere. Cazorla is a nine and a half a la Baggio, scoring many goals for a midfielder while still having a good share of assists. Rosicky is the traditional No. 10 but he’s past his prime and often struggles when starting every three days. Wilshere is the most versatile of the three and gives more defensive protection.

In midfield, Ramsey, Wilshere and Arteta have pretty much the same profile. Signing a physical ballwinner is therefore a top priority since Diaby is often injured, Coquelin is on loan and Frimpong’s future at the club is uncertain. The first name that comes to mind is Kondogbia. The Sevilla midfielder’s work rate and passing game are impressive for a 20-year-old player. With a market value around 10 million euros, anything below 15 million euros would still be a decent deal.

At the back, we have Gibbs, Monreal, Sagna, Jenkinson and Bellerin on the flanks. The biggest worry comes from the heart of our defense. Miquel is not good enough for the Premier League, which means that we only have three centerbacks. Vermaelen’s positional play is a disaster, Mertesacker lacks pace and Koscielny has been hampered by injuries last season. Wales captain Williams has been linked with Arsenal, but I’m not sure he has the leadership qualities to turn our back four into the best one in England. Let’s hope Wenger can find a defender as underrated as Dante was when Bayern Munich spent less than five million euros to sign him from Borussia Monchengladbach last year.

In goal, Szczesny will have another season to prove that he’s a reliable keeper. Fabianski will still be around to keep his compatriot on his toes with Martinez and Iliev possibly stepping up from the football academy if both Polish men get injured.

Nagoya vs. Arsenal

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

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